Q&A: Anna Mayberry of HSY and ANAMAI talks folk roots, contemporary dance

HSY's Anna Mayberry gave Toronto a free taste of her solo project ANAMAI with a Sonic Boom in-store to support her new EP in November, but tomorrow night (Dec. 11), ANAMAI plays another free gig at June Records. Photo: Tom Beedham

HSY’s Anna Mayberry gave Toronto a free taste of her solo project ANAMAI with a Sonic Boom in-store to support her new EP in November, but tomorrow night (Dec. 11), ANAMAI plays another free gig at June Records. Photo: Tom Beedham

Interview by Tom Beedham

I’ve been sitting on this for a while, but with ANAMAI playing a free gig at June Records tomorrow night (Dec. 11) and HSY playing The Drake Hotel Thursday (Dec. 12), the stars seemed lined up right enough to make this an appropriate time to let this go.

Although she released an EP with HSY just back in September, Anna Mayberry dropped a release of her own under the alias ANAMAI just last month: the Alter Coals EP. Joined onstage for the first time by a full live band consisting of Allie Blumas (Doomsquad), her mononymous HSY bandmate Jude, and David Psutka (whom produced the EP), Mayberry supported her new release on Nov. 15 with two Toronto performances – a free afternoon in-store at Sonic Boom’s Kensington Market location, and a club gig at Holy Oak later that night. Following the Sonic Boom gig, Mayberry and I huddled by a wall outside the Augusta Avenue shop and talked about her new project, growing up in a Toronto folk community, and how contemporary dance influenced HSY’s video for “Tartar Mouth.” Full interview below.

Tom Beedham: You seem to have created some pretty distinct voices between what you’ve done with HSY and what you’ve put together with ANAMAI. How do you approach writing material for this project as opposed to what you’ve done with HSY?
Anna Mayberry: I think that the way I write songs for this project is really different from how we write songs for HSY right now. With HSY one person will bring in a riff and we’ll kind of just jam together and make it together. These songs are kind of more fully formed in my head. And it’s also like a different atmospheric vibe that I’m going for with these songs. There’s some similarities and kind of darkness and letting noise laugh over the songs that happens in HSY, too. But yeah I think they’re just coming from a different artistic idea with HSY. It’s a bit crazier.

TB: Where are you hoping to take things with ANAMAI now that you’ve got the EP out there?
AM: I’m working on a bunch of new stuff. I hope to record over the winter and write new songs and stuff. On the EP it’s just three songs, and I have more that I play live. There’s a pizza song in there. I’d like to do a little bit more vocal looping – not necessarily more poppy, but just a lot more layered vocals – and kind of push in the same direction that the EP’s started us in.

I drive boats in Toronto Harbour in the summers. So yeah I basically have one more week of work left and then I’ll be free to sing all the time all day.

“…we wrote down names for dance moves that haven’t been invented yet and then we’d kind of shout them out at each other while the one person was dancing…” -Anna Mayberry (on filming the video for HSY’s “Tartar Mouth”)

TB: When did these songs come about?
AM: When I was living in Montreal I wrote most of the songs there. I was studying for my BFA in contemporary dance at Concordia. Contemporary dance. So art dance.

TB: Did that inform the “Tartar Mouth” video [for HSY]?
AM: Yeah! I guess so. I felt like for that I kind of directed people’s dance moves, but I wanted them to kind of make up dance moves. Our process was we wrote down names for dance moves that haven’t been invented yet and then we’d kind of shout them out at each other while the one person was dancing so I guess in terms of that it’s kind of interpretive. My choices making dance work are always to kind of use the dancers and get them to contribute, so in that way it’s kind of related I guess.

TB: Most of the lyrics you write are from a first-person perspective. At least it’s true for all of the songs on the EP or “Space Girl” [from HSY’s Sick Rey cassette]. Is there something you find particularly interesting about that perspective?
AM: I think it’s nice to write from a first-person perspective because it kind of just grounds some of the lyrics or some of the stories. Coming from a folk background, pretty much everything is written in the first person or like a story about specific people because they’re these kind of recurring characters or recurring themes and everyone who sings the song, they’re taking it on. I really like hearing a woman sing a song that’s written from a male perspective or vice-versa. That’s a nice folk thing that happens. So I guess I’m just tied to that in a certain way when I write songs. That’s how they come out.

TB: Let’s talk about that “folk background” that you brought up. I read on Chart Attack that you grew up in a folk community in Toronto learning traditional English and Irish music. Appalachian folk, too.
AM: Yeah. My parents do English folk dancing, and I basically grew up having these kind of crazy folk parties where at certain points people would be playing fiddle and banjo and piano and whatever in the living room, and then in the kitchen, people are all singing these kind of big sea chanteys or ballads or whatever. And the fun of that is everyone’s kind of getting drunk and trying out their harmonies, and it could sound really good or really bad, but it’s just very inclusive, and it’s kind of like if you’re going to be in that room you have to be singing. So I guess I just kind of practice singing when there’s no pressure on and it’s a good way to do it I think. It’s a good way to learn to sing.

TB: You mentioned people playing banjo and stuff – did you join in on any of that? When did you start playing guitar?
AM: I played fiddle a bit when I was a kid. A lot of my parents’ friends are professional musicians and I was taking violin lessons. So every time there would be a party in the morning all the fiddle players would teach me songs when I was a little kid, maybe seven years old, and like [simulates fiddle noises] on my little half-size violin so yeah I mean I guess I trained that way and then guitar I took some lessons when I was a teenager like everyone does and tried to learn Jimi Hendrix kind of thing. I couldn’t play the Jimi Hendrix.

TB: Do you consciously bring any of those influences from your childhood into your music now?
AM: Yeah I think so. It’s an interesting thing. I feel like I wouldn’t be making this kind of music if I hadn’t played in HSY or played a lot of shows with HSY before that. Because I think that the way I grew up seeing folk artists starting their careers or playing or whatever, it’s just a whole different network, a whole different scene. I’m kind of taking that folk stuff that is in my blood but putting it into the scene that I live in versus playing for a bunch of older people sitting down.

Photos: ANAMAI live in-store at Sonic Boom (Kensington location) – Nov. 15, 2013
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About Tom Beedham

Tom Beedham is a Canadian writer and photographer based in Toronto, Ontario. His work focuses on independent culture, DIY communities, and their relationship to the mainstream, reporting on a spectrum of creatives that has ranged from emerging acts to the definitive voices of cultural movements. In addition to contributing regular features to AUX, Chart Attack, and VICE publications Noisey and THUMP, he has appeared on Daily VICE, and frequently reviews concerts, festivals, and new album releases for Canadian arts and culture monthly Exclaim!. He is also a co-organizer and curator of the seasonal inter-arts series Long Winter, for which he oversees an online blog and print newspaper-style publication, printed for distribution at each instalment of the event. He was also a DIY concert organizer in his hometown Georgetown, Ontario in the mid-2000s.

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